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University Student Expelled Over Creative Writing Paper?

[UPDATE: See here for more information that makes me much less troubled about the University's action.] Troubling, if this account is reasonably complete. It's hard to tell more without learning about the context, including whether the student had some misconduct in his background, or otherwise showed himself to be a serious threat. But this does seem to merit some more looking into, especially since we're not just talking about the university's investigating a student (which I think officials must have a lot of flexibility to do), or even temporarily suspending him, but expelling him altogether.

Thanks to Duc Vu for the pointer.

UPDATE: I should note that if the student was expelled because his possession of handguns in his car (with a concealed weapons permit) violated state law or some school policy (presumably because the car was parked on campus), that would make the matter less troublesome — I don't think such a ban would be wise, but a school might nonetheless legitimately enforce it. Nonetheless, expulsion would still strike me an excessive remedy; nor would protecting the university from the possibility that he would turn into a Virginia-Tech-style mass killer justify this: If he really does plan to commit mass murder, he could do that as an expelled student pretty much as easily as an enrolled student (since the school doubtless doesn't have guards at each possible entrance to keep him off campus).

FURTHER UPDATE: (1) School authorities report that "Though the guns found in the car might have violated school rules, it did not violate state law."

(2) "The fictional essay, as well as the guns found in the car, convinced Scott County Commonwealth's Attorney Marcus McClung to have a judge revoke Barber's concealed-weapons permit, which allows him to carry hidden guns through Virginia.... McClung ... successfully argued to a judge last week that Barber should not legally have the permit since he was 'involuntarily committed' [because of the school's investigation] ...." Query whether this shows that the school's investigation did uncover some evidence of mental illness, or whether it simply shows that the permit was automatically revoked simply because of the school-triggered commitment.

(3) The creative writing class involved is taught by Christopher Scalia, who is apparently Justice Scalia's son.

Thanks to Dave Wegener for the pointer.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on the U.Va.-Wise Expulsion:
  2. University Student Expelled Over Creative Writing Paper?
89 Comments
More on the U.Va.-Wise Expulsion:

When I blogged on this incident -- in which the expulsion seemed to be triggered by a creative writing paper, coupled with a violation of university rules (but not state law) related to keeping licensed guns in a parked car on campus -- I wrote, "Troubling, if this account is reasonably complete. It's hard to tell more without learning about the context, including whether the student had some misconduct in his background, or otherwise showed himself to be a serious threat. But this does seem to merit some more looking into, especially since we're not just talking about the university's investigating a student (which I think officials must have a lot of flexibility to do), or even temporarily suspending him, but expelling him altogether."

Well, the account turns out not to have been reasonably complete, and making it more complete makes me much less troubled. Becky Dale points to this article that reports, "Not only was there the previous high school essay, but Barber has a recent conviction for being drunk in public and also was charged with assault and trying to break into another student's room."

The assault and break-in charges were dismissed, but it's certainly possible that the university had enough evidence about them to consider them in its decision. (University expulsion decisions, of course, aren't governed by a reasonable-doubt standard, or by the local prosecutor's judgments about what charges should be pressed criminally.) Among other things, Barber acknowledges that he "[broke] into a dorm room that he mistook for his own while admittedly in a drunken stupor," and "did community service for the misdemeanor drunk-in-public charge and was ordered to keep out of trouble for the next year while on campus."

It's still possible that the university acted incorrectly here (again, I stress that we don't have all the facts), for instance if it relied on the creative writing paper in its decision, and the creative writing paper did not actually reveal any dangerous propensities on the author's part. But the new evidence seems to make the university's decision much more plausible, especially if state law does not prohibit the university from imposing extra weapons rules beyond those created by state law (quite likely, given that the government as property owner generally has considerable authority to set up noncriminal constraints on what and who is allowed on its property). The burden would now have to be on Barber, I think, to show that there remains something to be troubled about.

Related Posts (on one page):

  1. More on the U.Va.-Wise Expulsion:
  2. University Student Expelled Over Creative Writing Paper?
33 Comments